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“ASK” – A National Campaign for Reference?

In a world where unreliable authorship and reviewed scholarship are in a mixed bag just a Google search away, what role should the library community play in providing information acquisition and discernment?

Inspired by a discussion from the Dig_Ref listserv, LRS conducted a 60-Second Survey in late 2008 and asked if librarian-assisted reference services should be promoted. If so, should a library organization promote reference, perhaps with an “ASK” campaign (similar to ALA’s “READ” campaign)? The survey also included questions to measure opinion on the significance of reference and virtual reference. Almost 1,500 library employees responded and more than 560 of them shared their views and ideas with comments.

What is an LRS 60-Second Survey?
In the style of an online readers’ poll, the 60-Second Survey format is short and to the point. By definition, the survey can be answered in a minute or less. Narrow by intent, 60-Second Surveys capture the perceptions and knowledge of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are distributed electronically via email, listservs, blogs, etc. Results are reported briefly on the LRS blog and in more detail in Fast Facts.

Promoting Reference
Respondents overwhelmingly agreed (92%) that the library profession should do more to promote reference services (see Chart 1). A handful of respondents (3%) said that reference services should not be promoted at all. The remaining 5 percent responded that they are not sure whether reference services should be promoted.

Chart 1:
The Promotion of Reference Services
FF279_Chart 1

The idea of a professional organization launching a national campaign to promote reference garnered slightly less but still substantial support, with more than 8 out of 10 (83%) respondents in favor (see Chart 1) of such an effort. Just over 20 (6%) said that a professional organization should not launch a reference campaign and the remainder (11%) said they “don’t know.”

Public library employees were most likely to be in favor of the idea of a professional organization starting a reference campaign, with 87 percent indicating support. Respondents from academic libraries were somewhat less likely to favor a campaign, with 78 percent in support.

Many comments substantiated the respondents’ support of a national campaign for reference. The small percentage of dissenting respondents opined that librarians are busy enough with in-person, phone, chat, and email reference; there is no need to promote their services. Others lamented that reference desks are too often staffed by under-trained employees, which they consider a predicament that puts limitations on a service they decree as critical.

“This is a vital effort. Re-branding reference librarians as ‘super searchers’ ought to be job #1 for the profession.”

Reference as a Critical Service
As one would anticipate, the survey results show the value placed in reference services with 1,473 (99%) of the 1,494 respondents viewing librarian-assisted searching as a necessity. More than half of those respondents (51%) say that assisted searches are greatly needed (see Chart 2). Only 17 respondents claimed that librarian-assisted reference services are not needed (1%).

Chart 2:
How great is the need for librarian-assisted search services in today’s information environment?
FF279_Chart 2

Librarians concur that reference services are needed, but are they considered critical to the survival of libraries? Just under two-thirds (65%) of the respondents agree that reference services are very important to the survival of libraries and one-third (33%) feel they are important (see Chart 3). Only 2 percent of respondents claimed that reference services are not important to the survival of libraries.

“I believe that there are 3 key points to library survivorship: youth services to establish behaviors; reading celebration; and reference services.  Each is a leg of the stool supporting healthy libraries.”

Chart 3:
How critical are reference services to the survival of libraries?
FF279_Chart 3

Virtual Reference
Respondents believe that virtual reference will be an integral complement to in-person interviews in the future of librarian-assisted searching (see Chart 4). Eight out of 10 (80%) respondents agree that virtual reference will be an important tool going forward, but it will never replace in-person reference interviews. Less than 1 in 10 (7%) responded that all reference would soon be done in a virtual environment, and less than half that many (3%) think virtual reference is a fad.

“It is the in-person service that provides the opportunity for the most efficient, meaningful, and thorough support and instruction . . .  while at the same time defining the dynamic and rich social-educational community that is the library. Virtual reference is a distant second to the real thing!”

Chart 4:
Do you think virtual reference services are the future of library reference?
FF279_Chart 4 copy

Many comments left by respondents regard virtual reference as an essential service provided by libraries. Other comments suggest that existing virtual reference tools are clunky and do not provide proper patron feedback in the timely manner necessary to complete successful reference transactions. Some comments indicated a hopeful attitude that technology will advance and bring about better tools in the future.

“Sometimes I wish librarians would stop trying to out google Google. Let it go! Focus on how we can teach people to search smarter.”

Surprising Results?
The idea that librarians consider reference to be a valuable service comes as no surprise. The real story lies in the fact that a strong majority of librarians would like to see a professional library organization launch a campaign to promote reference services, which they view as a critical function of libraries. The overwhelming response shows that librarians are interested in sharing their thoughts on how libraries might advance the public’s awareness and utilization of librarian-assisted information acquisition.

“We need to meet our users where they are, not where we wish they were. Many people never set foot into a library anymore, but they could use our assistance in sorting through all of the garbage that is floating around on the Internet to locate the reliable, authoritative information. Without marketing our services, without making the public aware of what we have to offer them, how can they know just how much we can help them?”

Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2008

Administered by the Library Research Service (LRS), the Public Library Annual Report collects information from Colorado’s public libraries. This survey collects a wide range of data, including the number of challenges to library materials, services, and the Internet. In 2008, 19 of the 115 public libraries in Colorado reported at least 1 challenge.

What is a challenge?
The American Library Association defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”
Challenges in Colorado
More than 1 out of 10 public libraries in Colorado received a challenge in 2008.

The LRS sends a follow-up survey each year to libraries that report challenges on their annual survey. This follow-up survey requests more detailed information about the challenges received, including format, title, and the reason for the challenge. In 2008, 17 of the 19 libraries that reported challenges responded to this survey. Among those libraries there were a total of 74 challenges received.

Formats Challenged
Similar to previous years, most challenges were for books (56.7%). About 1 in 3 challenges (33.8%) were for a video. The remaining challenges were for audiobooks, periodicals, the Internet, and other materials or services (see Chart 1).

Chart 1
Colorado Public Libraries, 2008
Challenges by Format
278_Chart 1

Three items received multiple challenges, all of which were children’s books. These books were Little Monkey’s Peeing Circus by Tjibbe Veldkamp (5 challenges), Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah Brannen (4 challenges), and Mommy Laid an Egg: Or, Where Do Babies Come From? by Babette Cole (2 challenges).

Most Frequently Challenged Books
Of the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2008 reported by the American Library Association (ALA), only 1 title was challenged in Colorado: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah Brannen. View the full list published by ALA here: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged/2008/index.cfm.

Audience
In previous years, adult materials were challenged more frequently than young adult or children’s materials. However, in 2008 children’s materials received more challenges (44%) than the other age group’s materials (see Chart 2). Adult materials made up more than a third (39%) of the challenges and 17 percent were challenges to young adult materials. In comparison with data from the previous 3 years, challenges based on audience changed substantially for each age group in 2008.

Fewer Changes in 2008
In 2008, 88 percent of challenges resulted in no change, the highest percentage since the Library Research Service began conducting the follow-up survey.

 Chart 2
Colorado Public Libraries, 2008
Challenges by Audience
2008 Compared to the Previous Three Years
278_Chart 2

Actions Taken
Respondents were also asked what action was taken as a result of the challenge. In 2008 the majority of challenges (88%) resulted in no change. Four percent of the challenges resulted in moving the item, 3 percent had some other action taken, 3  percent were dropped by the challenger, 1 item (1%) was removed, and 1 challenge (1%) has not yet been resolved (see Chart 3).

 Chart 3
Colorado Public Libraries, 2008
Results of Challenges
278_Chart 3

Reasons for Challenges
LRS’s follow-up survey also asked why the material was challenged. Respondents were able to designate multiple reasons. The 2 most frequently cited reasons were sexually explicit or unsuited to age group (see Table 1). These 2 reasons have been the most frequently cited reasons reported each year the follow up survey has been conducted.

New Issue in 2008
A unique type of challenge was reported on the follow-up survey in 2008. One of Colorado’s public libraries received 35 challenges regarding adult content websites. However, these challenges were different from those already discussed, as they were a request to gain access to websites already blocked by the library’s Internet filtering system. These challenges really represent a challenge to the library’s Internet policy, rather than a challenge to the library’s materials. For this reason, these challenges have been extracted from the data presented in this Fast Facts. This is the first year a challenge of this sort has been reported on the LRS follow-up survey, but if libraries continue to implement Internet filters, this may be a future issue to discuss regarding challenges.

278_Table 1

For More Information on Challenges and Intellectual Freedom

Libraries and Librarians Feeling Effects of Economic Slowdown

The economic recession’s impact on libraries has become a hot topic in recent months. Prompted by editorials and news stories from around the country, the Library Research Service (LRS) undertook our latest 60-Second Survey, “Libraries and the Economic Recession.” The goal of this survey was to gather input from librarians in the field about how their libraries and careers have been impacted by the current economic situation. Nearly 500 people working in public, academic, school, and special libraries responded. The results indicate that while public libraries are seeing much of the increase in traffic and library use, employees in all types of libraries are feeling the pressures of the economic recession.

What is an LRS 60-Second Survey?
In the style of an online readers’ poll, the 60-Second Survey format is short and to the point. By definition, the survey can be answered in a minute or less. Narrow by intent, 60-Second Surveys capture the perceptions and knowledge of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are distributed electronically via email, listservs, blogs, etc. Results are reported briefly on the LRS blog and in more detail in Fast Facts.

Increases in Library Use and Requests for Help
The first set of questions asked for respondents’ personal observations about increases in requests for assistance and increases in the use of library services.FF277_Image 1 copy

Computer use was a dominant theme in the responses. When asked if they were helping more patrons with selected library services, 70 percent of respondents said they had noticed an increase in requests for help using computers, while 66 percent reported more requests for assistance with job-seeking activities, such as filling out online applications or resume preparation (see Chart 1). These percentages were even higher among those working at public libraries, with 9 out of 10 public library employees identifying an increase in requests for assistance with computers and/or job-seeking activities.

“As a librarian in a large urban library system struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of customers needing help with technology, I have experienced the impact of the economic downturn firsthand – in particular with access to technology. Often my staff and I are helping multiple customers with few or no computer skills…”

Chart 1
Reported Increases in Patron Requests for Assistance with Library ServicesFF277_Chart 1Note: Chart details responses to the question, “In the last 12 months, have you had to help more patrons with them following services?”

Similarly, when asked whether they had personally noticed an increase in use of selected library resources in the last 12 months, 67 percent reported an increase in the use of public access computers. Sixty-three percent noted an increase in library visits, and 54 percent said they had seen an increase in the circulation of library materials (see Chart 2).

“Many people have come in to apply for jobs or apply for unemployment benefits that don’t know how to use a computer and helping them has been a strain. Also, many people have sad stories to tell and just need someone to listen.”
“There are more people coming into the library than ever before. We are getting patrons who tell us they didn’t know we existed, never needed us before. Now they need us for job information, computers, printers, and public assistance information. Most of our users have never needed public assistance. I have lots of pamphlets and information that I never see anyone take, but it needs [to be] constantly re-stocked. I have also seen an increase in very stressed-out people on the edge. I’m just hoping I still have a job next year.”

Chart 2
Reported Increases in Patron Use of Library Services
FF277_Chart 2Note: Chart details responses to the question, “In the last 12 months have you personally noticed an increase in use of the following resources at your library?”

Impact on Library Jobs
The second set of questions in the survey asked respondents how the economic recession has impacted their jobs. To determine which staff-related cost-cutting measures libraries were taking, the survey asked respondents to identify any cost-cutting measures they had experienced in the last 12 months. The largest percentage (36%) indicated that none of the selected measures had been taken at their library. Nearly 1 in 3 (32%) said their job duties had increased or changed in the last 12 months, and almost 30 percent said salaries or benefits in their current job had been frozen or cut (see Chart 3).

“We are serving people in our community who had never before used any of our services. They are surprised to see how much we have to offer. They did not expect the level of technology, variety of programs, or the up-to-date collection to be available in their hometown public library.”

Chart 3
Respondents Reporting Selected Cost-Cutting Measures at Work
FF277_Chart 3Note: Chart details responses to the question, “Which, if any, of the following has happened to you in the last 12 months?”

“Not only are we seeing an increase in overall visitors, we notice an increase in highly educated people with very limited library skills. Upper middle class new users who are making the decision to use ‘prepaid’ public library services when they used to meet those needs through video rentals, bookstores, home Internet, etc.”

When asked how the current economic recession has changed their career plans, 2 out of 5 (40%) said their plans had not changed. One in 4 (25%) said they would retire later than planned; 39 percent claimed they would stay in their current library job as a result of the recession. Responses to these job-related questions indicate that although libraries were seeing changes, a large percentage of respondents were unaffected and had not changed their career plans.

“As a solo librarian in a small library, I have lost my total budget and now must rely on donations and free books for acquisitions. Additionally the part-time assistant position has been cut so I must pick-up those job tasks as well as other tasks created by lost positions in other parts of the organization.”

Additional Training
The final set of questions asked respondents whether they felt the need for additional professional training. When asked if they could use training for their own professional development, 44 percent identified stress management as an area in which they could use assistance, 31 percent said dealing with difficult patrons, and 29 percent chose computer skills/software training (see Chart 4).

Chart 4
Respondents Identifying Areas of Training for Their Own Professional Development
FF277_Chart 4Note: Chart details responses to the question, “As a result of the current economic downturn, do you feel a need for additional training in any of the following areas for your own professional development?”

Finally, respondents were asked whether they would benefit from additional professional training in order to better serve patrons. Nearly half (46%) said they could use training on identifying available assistance/social programs for patrons. Thirty percent said they would benefit from training on how to help job seekers, and 18 percent selected training on how to instruct patrons on basic computer use. Almost another half (44%) chose “none of the above.” Those working in rural libraries were more likely than their counterparts in urban or suburban libraries to say they would benefit from additional professional training (see Chart 5).

Chart 5
Professional Training Needed to Improve Service to Patrons
FF277_Chart 5Note: Chart details responses to the question, “To better serve patrons, do you feel a need for additional professional training in any of the following areas,” arranged by the community type respondents selected.

Conclusion
Media stories about the economic recession’s impact on library use and services are largely focused on public libraries. While this 60-Second Survey is not a comprehensive look at how the recession is challenging libraries, it does provide a snapshot of the changes employees at all types of libraries have witnessed with their patrons and experienced for themselves. Survey results and the anecdotal evidence provided by respondents in their open-ended comments demonstrate how the economic situation has influenced the way patrons use libraries and in many cases increased the stress of librarians.

User Satisfaction with AskColorado Continues

Most users of AskColorado, the statewide 24/7 free virtual reference service, continue to report being satisfied with the service, according to a user satisfaction survey conducted by the Library Research Service (LRS).

In the fall of 2008, 1,335 AskColorado users completed a pop-up survey after their virtual reference transaction. The survey asked users how helpful they found the virtual librarian, how satisfied they were with the answer to their question, and how likely they were to use AskColorado again.

The results indicate users are pleased with the service. Nearly 3 out of 4 users (74%) said the virtual librarian they worked with was extremely helpful or helpful, while 72 percent indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the answer to their question. Most respondents (83%) said they were very likely or likely to use AskColorado again (see Chart 1). In addition, comments left by users often reflected their satisfaction. Many said they were impressed with the service and grateful for the help they received.

Virtual Reference: Colorado and the Nation
AskColorado, which marked its fifth full year of service in September 2008, has fielded over a quarter of a million sessions in English and Spanish since its inception. The service is staffed by librarians from 45 libraries throughout the state and 75 libraries in Colorado support AskColorado by providing monetary contributions and/or staffing. Thanks in large part to this service, 53 percent of public libraries in Colorado offer chat or instant-message reference service, compared with 22 percent of public libraries nationwide.1
“The librarian I was working with was very helpful even though my subject was broad, and she found exactly what I was looking for. This site is wonderful. Thank you.”

FF276_Image 1FF276_Image 2

Usage Trends
AskColorado fielded 39,870 sessions in 2008, which is lower than 2007’s total of 61,670. The reason for this decrease is due to the discontinuation of one “queue” that in 2007 generated 14,425 sessions. That queue, known as CoGov, was a pilot project between AskColorado and the web providers for the State of Colorado website. The pilot project was discontinued Jan. 1, 2008. Decreased traffic from the CoGov queue, in addition to technical logistics related to the discontinuation, resulted in lower total numbers for 2008. Although the total number of sessions was down, use by Spanish speakers grew.  The number of sessions fielded in Spanish increased during 2008, from 329 in 2007 (an average of about one sessions per day) to 591 in 2008 (an average of almost two sessions per day).

Chart 1
2008 AskColorado User Survey
Responses to Patron Satisfaction Questions

FF276_Chart 1

User satisfaction with the service appears to be on the rise. In 2008, respondents reported the highest levels of satisfaction for all three satisfaction questions in the four years the survey has been administered. More respondents reported being “very satisfied” with the answer to their question than in previous years (from 43% in 2005 to 51% in 2008) and the percentage of respondents who indicate future use is “very likely” has increased each year the survey asked the question, from 61 percent in 2005 to 70 percent in 2008.

“The librarian was not only helpful, but very friendly as well. I could tell that she was doing everything she could to help me. Thanks!”

Generational Divide
When satisfaction levels were compared to respondents’ age, an interesting discrepancy emerged. Respondents ages 60 and older were less likely to rate the service highly in terms of helpfulness and satisfaction. While more than half (53%) of respondents from this age group were satisfied or very satisfied with the answer to their question, one in three said they were not satisfied with the answer to their question – twice the rate of any other age group (see Chart 2). This may reflect a generational difference in respondents’ familiarity and comfort with instant messaging and virtual reference, among other factors. Although only 5% of survey respondents said they were 60 years or older, this generational divide may merit attention in the future.

Chart 2
Respondent Satisfaction with Answer to Their Question by Age Group

FF276_Chart 2

AskColorado and Schoolwork>
AskColorado is used by students of all ages. Three out of five respondents (60%) identified themselves as current students; of those, nearly half (45%) are middle school students, although high school and college students are also well represented. (See Chart 3).

“I got all my homework done on one trip to this site. I will be recommending this site toallmy friends and family.”

Outcomes

Chart 3
Respondent Distribution by Current Level of Study, Students

FF276_Chart3

Conclusion
As the virtual reference model matures, AskColorado continues to improve its services with user satisfaction ratings at record highs in 2008. Use of the service by students at all levels, as well as the outcomes reported by all respondents, indicate that users rely on AskColorado for assistance with schoolwork as well as for answers to traditional reference questions. The results of this survey suggest that AskColorado is providing a valuable resource for Coloradans by offering one-on-one service for patrons 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Thanks for the help, it saved a lot of time searching meaningless websites.”

Library Jobs in Colorado: What Does Libraryjobline.org Tell Us?

In 2009, LibraryJobline.org began its third year of data collection2.  This Fast Facts examines and compares the data from job postings in 2007 and 2008 (Jobline’s first and second year), as well as the number of job postings by month in 2009, at the time of this writing.

LibraryJobline.org
Since 2007:

  • More than 1,300 positions have been posted
  • More than 1,200 people have signed up for MyJobline accounts
  • More than 2 out of 3 registered users receive email notifications
  • One out of 3 registered users subscribe to Jobline’s RSS notifications

Number of Job Postings 2007-2009
Due to the current economic recession, it is not surprising that job postings have recently decreased. The number of jobs posted in 2008 was down 20 percent from 2007 (see Chart 1).

Chart 1
Number of Job Postings by Month, 2007-2009
275_Chart 1

However, a sharp decline did not begin until September 2008. Prior to that, the number of job postings fluctuated, but overall, was similar to 2007. So far in 2009, postings have decreased even more. In February and March 2009, Library Jobline received the fewest number of postings yet for a single month. This may improve, as job postings have been seasonal in the past, with monthly totals peaking between May and August and lessening at the end of the year. As of June 2009, this trend does appear to continue as job postings have increased. However, despite the increase since March 2009, the monthly totals are still less than half of what they were in 2007 and 2008.

Job Postings by Library Type
The percentage of job postings by library type for 2008 changed very little from 2007 (see Chart 2). The minimal change indicates that all library sectors are affected by the decrease in job postings. As in 2007, well over half of the job postings were for public libraries (64%) and academic library job postings (20%) were a distant second.

Chart 2
Percentage of Total Job Postings by Library Type
2007 & 2008
275_Chart 2

Degree Requirements
The percentage of all jobs posted that required an ALA-acredited MLIS degree was, again, very similar in 2007 and 2008. However, among the different library types (academic, public, and special) there was a change between the 2 years. The percentage of postings requiring an ALA-MLIS degree decreased for all library types, except academic (see Chart 3). In 2008, the ALA-MLIS degree was required for 54 percent of positions posted by academic libraries, an increase of 6 percentage points from 2007. Public libraries had a slight decrease in MLIS requirements for jobs posted, which went from 36 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2008. Special libraries had the biggest change with job postings requiring the MLIS decreasing from 38 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2008.

Chart 3
Percentage of Positions Posted Requiring ALA-MLIS Degree by Library Type
2007 & 2008
275_Chart 3
Note: School libraries are excluded from this chart because degree requirements and credentials (i.e. school library endorsement) for librarian positions are often different from other library types.

Reason for Position Openings
When posting a job to LibraryJobline.org, employers are asked to identify the reason for the job opening. Possible responses are resignation, new position, promotion, or retirement.  Resignations were the reason for nearly half (45%) of 2008’s posted positions.  Almost 1 in 4 (24%) positions posted were new positions. The percentage of jobs posted due to promotions or retirements was the same in 2008 (each 15%). Overall, the distribution of reasons for position openings in 2008 was almost identical to 2007. The largest changes seen between the 2 years were a slight increase (3%) in retirements, and a similar decrease (3%) in promotions, resulting in a position posted to LibraryJobline.org. 

Hot Jobs275_Image 1
So far in 2009, the most frequently viewed job has been a posting for a Teacher-Librarian position with Denver Public Schools. The posting has had 4,181 views to date. The most frequently viewed posting in 2008 was another Teacher-Librarian position with Denver Public Schools, which had 4,330 views. The percentage of school library job postings is so few (only 9 percent of the positions posted to Library Jobline are from school libraries, as seen in Chart 2), that when these positions do appear, they are heavily viewed. In addition, these position listings often include multiple job openings, which may further explain the large number of views for these postings. The most recent hot jobs can always be viewed at http://www.LibraryJobline.org/stats/hotposts.php.

Conclusion
The most substantial change during LibraryJobline.org’s second year was the decrease in positions posted, going from 520 in 2007 to 418 in 2008. The economic recession is undoubtedly the main cause for much of this decline. As we move forward LibraryJobline.org will likely continue to reflect the general health of the economy. Although the number of positions posted is lower, the number of users is increasing as more people search for jobs. The total number of visits to LibraryJobline.org in April 2009 (17,155) increased by more than 2,000 from April 2008 (14,932), despite the fact that the number of job postings was less than half.  It will be interesting to see how time and different economic conditions affect the positions posted on LibraryJobline.org. Stay tuned.

Patrons Continue to Love CTBL Service

The Colorado Talking Book Library’s (CTBL) third patron satisfaction and outcome survey was administered in 2008. It is clear from the survey results and the comments left by respondents that the overwhelming majority of patrons are very pleased with CTBL service. Overall satisfaction is exceptionally high—nearly all respondents (99%) rated CTBL as excellent or good (see Chart 1).

Chart 1
Respondents Overall Satisfaction with CTBL
274 Chart 1

About CTBL
The Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) serves, at no cost to the user, over 13,000 patrons who, due to physical, visual, or learning disabilities, are unable to read standard print material. CTBL’s collection consists of 56,000 talking books, 5,000 titles in Braille, 14,000 titles in large print, and about 300 descriptive videos. CTBL is part of the Colorado State Library, a division of the Colorado Department of Education and is affiliated with the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).

Features of CTBL Service
In addition to rating overall satisfaction with CTBL, respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with selected features of CTBL service. Features were generally rated very well. The features that received the highest rankings were courtesy of library staff and speed with which books are delivered, both with 98 percent rated as excellent or good (see Chart 2). Even the 2 lowest rated service features—quality of the cassette machine and the book titles selected—still received very high ratings, with almost 9 out of 10 respondents indicating a good or excellent rating.

CTBL Services

  • Books may be ordered via mail, email, phone, fax, or online.
  • The Library loans the cassette playback machines free of charge to its patrons.
  • Patrons can request specific titles or books can be selected for them based on their reading interests.

Chart 2
Percentage of Respondents Rating Selected Features of CTBL Service as Excellent or Good
274 Chart 2

Outcomes of CTBL Use
The survey also asked respondents how CTBL has been valuable to them. Reading for pleasure was by far the most frequently selected outcome of CTBL, with 8 out of 10 respondents citing that as valuable (see Chart 3). The next most valued outcome of CTBL use, with more than 1 in 3 respondents selecting it, was learning more about a personal interest. About 1 in 6 found information needed for school and 1 in 10 stayed connected to their community.

“Mom will soon be 93. These books keep her mind alert, and provide entertainment for some of her long hours. They have been a “godsend” thank you for the independence you have given my mom.”

Chart 3
Percentage of Respondents Indicating Selected Outcomes of CTBL Services
274 Chart 3Note:  Respondents could select more than 1 outcome.

“Losing my ability to read has been an extremely difficult adjustment for me. The CTBL helps me connect to my world, stay current on new information, and gives me hope to continue learning throughout my life. Thank you for all you do.”

What’s changed?
Results of the 2008 CTBL patron satisfaction survey were very similar to the previous 2 surveys in 2004 and 2006. Most satisfaction ratings varied only slightly from previous years with respondents indicating high satisfaction levels. This was also true of the most frequently selected outcomes of CTBL service. However, there were a few exceptions.

In 2008, the CTBL newsletter received a combined rating of excellent and good from 95 percent of survey respondents. This was similar in 2006, with 94 percent rating the newsletter positively. These ratings were greatly improved from 2004, when only 74 percent rated the newsletter as excellent or good. When asked about the increased patron satisfaction, Debbi MacLeod commented that in 2004, when she became CTBL’s director, she revamped the newsletter. Some of the changes included featuring new books (e.g., large print or locally recorded books) and information about products and events of interest to CTBL patrons. Ms. MacLeod said, “These changes have jazzed up the contents, made it more interesting and useful to our patrons, and don’t forget the readability factor.  It’s also available in alternate formats, which is becoming more widely known and helps patrons who can’t read the large print.”

The quality of the cassette machine loaned to the patrons was also rated differently in 2008. Combined ratings of excellent and good dropped from 96 percent and 94 percent in 2004 and 2006, respectively, to 88 percent in 2008. The decrease in ratings is possibly due to the cassette machines aging. This problem is being addressed statewide and nationally with the adoption of a new digital talking book player, which will be distributed to patrons starting in fall 2009.

Digital Talking Book Players274 Image 2
The new digital talking book player will be about the size of a cassette and will weigh almost 5 pounds less than the traditional talking book player.

Benefits of CTBL use, according to respondents, have also been quite similar each year, with 1 notable difference.  In 2008, 16 percent of respondents indicated finding information needed for school was a valued outcome (see Chart 3). This is about twice the percentage of previous year’s surveys (9% in 2004 and 7% in 2006). This increase could be due to a change in 2008’s survey administration, when more school-aged patrons received the survey than in years prior.3

“Continue with the great work you do, this service has really helped me with my school work. Thank you.”

Conclusion
Clearly, the vast majority of patrons are satisfied with CTBL service. Nearly all respondents rate their overall satisfaction with CTBL and individual service features extremely high. In addition to high ratings, the comments received from survey respondents reflect how much CTBL means to its patrons. Patrons appreciate CTBL for keeping them informed, entertained, and connected to their communities.

“I look forward to Fridays when I usually receive a new selection of books. My life is so much more pleasurable with the books as reading has always been a high priority for me. Special requests are sent to me very promptly, staff have always been helpful and pleasant. I really do not think I could do without you people and the services you provide.”

Colorado Libraries Return on Investment: 5 to 1

It’s no secret that public libraries provide essential services to their patrons and are important resources for their communities. Intrinsic values are easy to understand, but actual values can be difficult to quantify. For every dollar spent on public libraries in Colorado, how much is returned to the community? Approximately $5, according to a study conducted by the Library Research Service (LRS).

The LRS report, Public Libraries – A Wise Investment: A Return on Investment Study of Colorado Libraries, details the results of a study utilizing a multiple case study approach to quantify the return on investment (ROI) to taxpayers for 8 public libraries in Colorado. These libraries represented geographically, economically, and demographically diverse regions of state, and included 3 large Front Range libraries (Denver Public Library, Douglas County Libraries, and Rangeview Library District); 3 in mountain communities (Montrose Library District, Eagle Valley Library District, and Cortez Public Library); 1 on the Western Slope (Mesa County Public Library District); and 1 on the Eastern Plains (Fort Morgan Public Library).

Usage patterns for these libraries varied as much as the libraries themselves (see Table 1.)

Table 1
Selected Characteristics of Public Libraries Used in Return on Investment Study, 2006273 Table 1Note: Data is from the 2006 Public Library Annual Report, available at www.lrs.org.

Assigning values
LRS utilized survey questionnaires filled out by almost 5,000 Colorado residents, a library survey, and existing data sources to determine how much – in dollars – libraries contribute to their communities. To identify library services or functions to which dollar values could be easily assigned, LRS looked at ROI studies completed in other states for guidance. Several different numbers were considered together in calculating final returns. These values included:

  • “Cost to use alternatives” – Cost to patrons to acquire information or materials from an alternative source if the library did not exist
  • “Lost use” – Direct benefit patrons who chose not to seek information elsewhere would lose if the library did not exist
  • Local expenditures – What the library spends on goods and services in its community
  • Lost staff compensation – Salaries and wages that would not be paid without the library
  • “Halo spending” – Purchases made by patrons at businesses near the library when they visit

For more information on the methodology used in this study, see the full report at www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/roi.pdf.

Results
For most of the libraries in the study, the ROI was approximately 5 to 1; for every dollar spent on the library, about 5 dollars of value was realized by taxpayers (see Table 2.)

Table 2
Return on Investment Per Dollar for Participating Libraries273 Table 2

Why so different?
As Table 2 illustrates, the ROI for the Cortez Public Library ($31.02 per $1.00) vastly exceeded the median, while the ROI for the Fort Morgan Public Library exceeded the median slightly ($8.80 per dollar).  In these libraries, the discrepancy between who funds the libraries (municipalities) and who uses them (county residents) accounts for much of the difference in ROI. For a more detailed explanation, see the individual ROI reports for Cortez Public Library and Fort Morgan Public Library, available at www.lrs.org/public/roi.

Determining personal ROI
As part of this study, LRS created an interactive return on investment calculator that patrons of public libraries in Colorado can use to determine a personal return on their investment as taxpayers. The calculator (available at www.lrs.org/public/roi/usercalculator.php) assigns a dollar value to a single use of a particular library service. Individual returns on investment are based on the number of times the individual reports using each service per month and the typical annual tax contribution for the selected public library.

Using ROI
Return on investment studies can be valuable for public relations campaigns and budget discussions, as they detail how libraries benefit their communities in a dollars-and-cents way. While understanding the ROI value of libraries can be useful and important, it is equally important to remember that there are other dimensions of library value. True returns on taxpayer investments in public libraries include intangible benefits that are nearly impossible to quantify, such as the sense of community and lifelong learning that libraries help foster. It is important to keep asking patrons how they benefit and to communicate these values to patrons and stakeholders.

For more information on the LRS return on investment study, including individual reports for the participating libraries, ROI calculators, and related articles, information, and resources, visit www.lrs.org/public/roi.

References

  • Colorado Public Library Annual Report, 2007. (2007). Compiled by Library Research Service. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from www.lrs.org.
  • Library Research Service. Individual Return on Investment Calculator. 18 April 2008. 8 May 2009 http://www.lrs.org/public/roi/usercalculator.php.
  • Steffen, Nicolle, et al. Public Libraries – A Wise Investment: A Return on Investment Study of Colorado Libraries. (2009). Library Research Service. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from www.lrs.org.

Out for Life; Restorative Librarianship in the Colorado Department of Corrections

A 2008 article in Public Libraries makes the case that there is “no greater need [for library services] than in the lives of incarcerated community members.”4 While the focus of the article is on the role of librarianship in juvenile detention centers, it can be contended that adults in correctional facilities have many of the same needs as their juvenile counterparts, including the need for accountability, competency development, technology instruction, and educational opportunities, all of which contribute to successful reintegration into larger society.

Colorado taxpayers spend $28,759 per inmate per year 5 to house 14,662 state prisoners in its prisons.6 That’s an annual price tag of over 420 million dollars. With half of all prisoners returning to prison within 3 years, recidivism reduction has become a statewide priority.

83% of respondents indicated that the prison library assisted in the acquisition of Life Skills.

Per Colorado Statute,7 the Colorado State Library’s Institutional Library Development (ILD) unit oversees 23 libraries in the state’s 22 adult correctional facilities. As part of its commitment to reduce recidivism, the ILD unit received a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to create “Out for Life.” Designed to promote libraries’ role in helping prisoners successfully reenter society, this grant allowed for the purchase of library materials in subject areas that demonstrably reduce recidivism, including job seeking, finding affordable housing, budgeting, addiction recovery, mental health, and recreation.

In cooperation with prison library staff, ILD selected similar materials for each prison library in print and non-print formats and in Spanish and English. Staff at each facility library designed and implemented their own library programs.

To measure the overall success of the grant-funded programs, a survey was administered pre- and post-program to inmates at all but 1 facility, Delta Correctional Center. 3,551 responses were collected, 2,507 pre-program and 1,044 post-program. Responses were compared across facility security levels ranging from Level 1—the lowest security level—to Level V, the highest. Of the respondents, 89 percent of were male and 11 percent female. While 97 percent of respondents took the survey in English, only 3 percent took it in Spanish.

Overview of Results
Individuals who responded after the Out for Life program had been administered in their facilities cited a higher level of helpfulness of the prison library than those who responded before administration of the program (see Charts 1 and 2). Nearly 9 out of 10 (88.6%) respondents reported that they had used the prison library. Notably, in facilities where Out for Life had been administered, a greater percentage of respondents reported using the library to help with the re-entry process. Only 9.8 percent of respondents from post-program facilities reported not using the library, compared with 12.0 percent for pre-program facilities.

Chart 1: Helpfulness of the Prison Library – Pre-Program Respondents272 Chart 1

A higher percentage of those who responded after their facilities had completed the program said that the prison library was at least somewhat helpful in preparing them for re-entry, increasing to 83 percent from 77 percent. Furthermore, the percentage of respondents who described the prison library as “very helpful” increased from 26 percent at pre-program facilities to 33 percent at post-program facilities.

Chart 2: Helpfulness of the Prison Library–Post-Program Respondents272 Chart 2

Overall, 83 percent of those surveyed after program implementation said that the prison library was at least somewhat helpful in preparing for re-entry, up from 77 percent prior to program implementation. Additionally, 83 percent of all respondents indicated that the prison library assisted in the acquisition of one or more “Life Skills,” which for the purpose of the program included skills related to obtaining employment, public transportation, health care, addiction recovery, mental health services, and education,8as well as managing anger and setting goals.

A further breakdown of the responses highlights areas in which the program was most successful (see Table 1).

Table 1: Out for Life
Outcomes for Respondents Pre-and Post-Program272 Table 1(Note: Excludes those who reported that they did not use the library)

Summary and Conclusions
Prison libraries in Colorado are actively engaged in attempting to improve the lives of their constituents, and specifically in helping to ease the re-entry process. This is evidenced by the high levels of satisfaction with the prison library reported by respondents to this survey.

Project Director Diane Walden indicated that the overarching purpose of the Out for Life project was to “provide materials and programs …to support the successful reintegration of Colorado Department of Corrections inmates.”9

While her final report suggests that much remains to be done in order to achieve the project goals, statistical analysis has demonstrated that the project can be deemed a success for many participants, and that inmates in Colorado’s correctional facilities are using library programs and resources in order to aid them in successful reentry.

What I Learned About the Value of an MLIS Degree: An LIS Student’s Perspective

“I am torn between not recommending and recommending pursuing a MLIS degree… While I value my degree and what I have learned, entering the profession has been disappointing and frustrating.”

“The job market is extremely glutted, while at the same time people outside of the profession are seeing less and less value in paying for a professional librarian. It’s a really terrible job market right now, yet ALA and library schools are doing absolutely nothing to address these very serious problems.”

“The MLIS reflects our earlier vision and mission but may not address the present and future as well as it should.”

After hours of skimming responses to the Library Research Service’s MLIS value survey1, I suppose a bit of self-doubt was inevitable.

As a student only a few months away from my own MLIS, the stress of exams and projects is gradually being replaced by another, more nebulous anxiety: the fear that I won’t be able to find a professional job, especially once the bills for my student loans start showing up in the mailbox. More than that, will the job translate into a rewarding career and a decent lifestyle? Here, directly from the folks in the trenches, were words that spoke to my anxieties, and they weren’t exactly comforting.

Click the Download Report button at right to continue reading this Fast Facts.

In Your Own Words: The Value of an MLIS

In May 2008, the LRS 60-Second Survey, “The Value of an MLIS to You,” was released, prompted by a 2008 posting on a Colorado-based library listserv that asked a simple question: Would you recommend an MLIS degree to a recent college graduate? Enthusiastic responses to the listserv question from dozens of people inspired the Library Research Service to create its own survey, distributed mostly via listservs and blogs. Almost 2,000 responses from all 50 states and 6 continents were received, and over half included voluntary comments further explaining respondents’ thoughts about the MLIS degree.  Overall, the results of the survey showed that respondents do value the MLIS.  Nine out of ten (89%) respondents said their degree was worth the investment.  However, not quite as many would recommend the degree to others (86%).10 This is a small difference, and it and other subtleties of the responses may be explained in the many thoughtful comments left by respondents.

In reviewing more than 1,000 comments received on the “Value of an MLIS to You” survey, many themes emerged and most fell into 6 categories. These categories were the overall perception of the profession, the job market, the intrinsic value of the degree, personal financial impact, MLIS content, and career advancement. Each comment was tagged with the categories that it covered, and whether the comment was perceived to be positive or negative.

Definition of Comment Categories

  • Perception of the profession: relating to the public’s view and/or appreciation of librarianship
  • Job market: availability of professional positions for MLIS holders and the ease or difficulty in obtaining those positions
  • Intrinsic value: personal values and beliefs related to working in the profession
  • Personal Financial Impact: the cost of the degree and the salaries earned post-degree
  • MLIS content: MLIS degree programs and curriculum
  • Career advancement: the ability to advance in a library career

Many comments mentioned more than 1 theme and were included in multiple categories. Chart 1 shows the number of times a category was mentioned at least once in a comment. Chart 2 shows the number of responses that were perceived as positive and negative in each category. No comments were tagged as both positive and negative within a category, but some respondents did make positive comments in 1 category and negative comments in another category. The overall tone of the comments is analyzed later in this Fast Facts. The categories are discussed in order of most positive response received to least positive response received.
270_Chart 1270_Chart 2

Intrinsic Value
Comments that were categorized as relating to intrinsic value were overwhelmingly positive. Ninety-eight percent (167) were categorized as positive—more so than any other category. The comments in this category were defined as those that mentioned personal values and beliefs.

The intrinsic value of the MLIS degree was regarded positively in multiple respects that included recognizing librarianship as an opportunity to contribute to society and being a part of a profession that is congruous with their value system. Respondents articulated many underlying values, including the defense of intellectual freedom, the search for truth, provision of sound information, and betterment of self and community. Other respondents mentioned that the degree gave them the capacity to shape their interests and talents into a fulfilling career that they love and enjoy. Based on their remarks, most of these respondents implied that job satisfaction has value above monetary compensation.

“For me, the value of the MLIS lies in the feeling of having a fulfilling, important career. Every day I feel as though I am making a difference. The degree was worth the money in the knowledge I have utilized every day alone. If I could go back, I would do it again.”

The few respondents in this category who left comments perceived as being negative expressed personal preferences for paraprofessional work, and a dislike of the role of politics in libraries.

“This degree has allowed me to get a job that I enjoy – that is worth every penny I lost from a higher paying job that I hated.”

Career Advancement
More comments referred to career advancement than any other category. Of the 393 comments related to career advancement, almost 9 out of 10 (89%) were positive. These respondents seemed to feel that the MLIS is essential for a successful career in libraries. Many stated specifically that they had advanced and experienced flexibility in their own career due to the MLIS degree.  For many respondents the value of the MLIS degree is exhibited in the number and type of opportunities available when one has the degree. Some wrote that the degree turned what was formerly just a job into a profession, and others commented on the portability of the degree and the wide range of opportunities available to MLIS graduates. Others mentioned the salary increases that came with the degree as proof of its value.

“It was the only way I could obtain a professional position. Right now, our library is being cut. MLIS positions were saved.”

Some respondents who didn’t have the degree would recommend it for others, but said they chose not to pursue it because it would not bring any career advances or pay increases, often due to personal factors (e.g., the respondent was unable to relocate or the rural library they worked for did not employ degreed librarians).

“I started studying for my MLS when I was 44. I had already worked in libraries for 8 years and wondered if it would be too late for it to make a difference in my career. It has! It opened many professional doors for me and today I am the director of our public library.”

MLIS Content
Comments in this category related to the quality and value of the MLIS degree program and/or coursework. MLIS content was mentioned in 376 comments, making it the second most common theme, and one of the most divisive. Respondents expressed strong opinions, both positive and negative, about the MLIS.

Comments in this category that were perceived as being positive (60%) usually referred to the MLIS degree as an essential foundation that provided theoretical and historical grounding for the profession and contributed to a common culture among librarians.

Some respondents stressed that in order to be successful, the MLIS student would need to pursue practical experience and participate in professional development activities in addition to their formal education.

“Learning the theory behind what we do is important, and is a framework for decisions that we make. I learned about sources and services that I use to this day. A lot of what I learned has changed, and a lot was not even invented (internet, for one), but I’ve been able to adapt because I had the foundation of knowledge.”
“The value of the degree is completely dependent on the experience the student intends to have. Some will treat the MLIS like it is a true graduate degree; others will treat LIS school like it is trade school, or a rite of passage. Some students will leave LIS school with a line for the resume; others will leave with a robust curriculum vitae that will only continue to develop.”

However, 41 percent of comments related to MLIS content were perceived as being negative. These respondents voiced disappointment with their degree programs, criticizing the relevance and academic rigor of their courses. Some felt the curriculum was outdated, and lamented the lack of technology, management, or library instruction courses. Several wrote that the skills they learned on the job were more valuable than the skills they learned in school or negated the need for an MLIS entirely.

“I wouldn’t recommend that someone get a degree, except that it’s a requirement for the job. There is no real content to an MLS degree…the MLS curriculum was really very silly. Not graduate level work at all.”

Job Market
Several respondents voiced frustrations with the job market—their comments were generally perceived as negative. Of the 132 comments tagged as job market, 91 of them were categorized as negative. Many argued that the market is saturated, especially in areas where there are 1 or more library schools. Without additional data, it is impossible to know whether the dearth of job opportunities was real or perceived, but the presence of this theme indicates it is a legitimate concern for those who commented. Some comments explained that the job market is tight especially for those without library experience and for those who are unwilling to relocate for a position. Some mentioned the notion that new librarians have been drawn to the field, due in part to the oft-cited librarian shortage brought about by the large number of librarians expected to retire. Many expressed feelings that the librarian shortage has not materialized and would not materialize any time soon.

A few respondents, however, noted that the variety of career possibilities for graduates made the MLIS a valuable degree, and their comments were often perceived as positive.

“It has been an unbelievably frustrating, sad, disheartening experience to work so hard for a degree with so little economic or professional value. I simply cannot find work, and after 6 years of looking, I am giving up on the field.”
“Marketed effectively, these skills open up many opportunities within the “traditional” boundaries of our profession, as well as outside of those boundaries.”

Personal Financial Impact
Of the 224 comments that mentioned personal financial impact, 77 percent were perceived as negative. Several respondents mentioned the struggle to pay back student loans on librarian salaries; others wrote they would only recommend the degree to someone with significant existing financial support. A few commented that in hindsight they wished they had pursued more lucrative professional degrees, such as business or computer science. Those who referred to personal financial impact in what was perceived to be a positive light usually mentioned salary gains or promotions that came after obtaining the MLIS.

“Given the low wages and poor opportunities for advancement in the field, within my geographic area anyway, I’m questioning whether all the debt I went in to get my MLIS was worth it. And I was one of the lucky ones in my class who got a full-time job shortly after graduation.”
“If you were to judge an MLS on a strictly monetary ROI [return on investment], no one in their right mind would get one… the only thing keeping libraries going is the sincere love for the job that many of us have.”

Perception of the Librarian Profession
Ninety-two comments mentioned the public’s perception of the library profession. More than 5 of 6 reflected a negative perception of the profession (86%). These comments were defined as those that discussed the public view of librarians and/or the MLIS.

Many respondents wrote of a general lack of understanding of a librarian’s educational background and role in the community.  Some comments perceived as negative in this category discussed the low pay of some MLIS graduates as a constant reminder that the public does not have a particularly positive perception of librarians, if they have any perception at all. Some noted a recent rise in staffing paraprofessionals in librarian roles and felt this practice diminishes the value of the degree in the eyes of the public and the eyes of MLIS graduates. According to some respondents, librarians are individually and collectively responsible for promoting their own professional value to the public and have disregarded this responsibility in the past.

The few positive comments in this category mentioned the value of the degree in the eyes of library directors and trustees. These respondents wrote that the degree demonstrated a commitment to libraries, life-long learning, communities, and one’s own career and education. Only a couple of respondents stated that they felt respected and appreciated by the public.

“The perception the degree carries with potential employers, especially public library trustees, is of more value than the practical skills taught in pursuit of the degree.”
“I love being a librarian, but I am disappointed that librarians have such a low level of recognition by the community. Unlike teachers, our profile as perceived by the public has never changed. I think that is the main reason that libraries are the first department or institution cut when money tightens up. We need to do a much better job clarifying what we do that helps the community. We do much more and our libraries offer more than people realize. We need to make libraries indispensable to the communities.”

Conclusion
In the more than 1,000 comments left by respondents, many lauded the degree and profession in 1 or more categories. About 43 percent of comments had a positive tone only and 28 percent had a “mixed” tone, meaning the comment had both a positive and negative tone. Less than 1 in 5 respondents (19%) had a negative only comment (see Chart 3.)  Just over 100 comments were not applicable to this analysis and were labeled “unrelated.” These comments were either personal comments or too vague to infer meaning.

270_Chart 3

The positive comments reflected on a love of the profession, the necessity of the MLIS for career advancement, and an overall belief that the MLIS program content provides a fundamental foundation of knowledge to thrive in the profession.

The negative comments acknowledged concern with the job market, post-MLIS personal financial impact, and the perception of the profession. These concerns caused hesitation for respondents in recommending the MLIS degree to others. However, many respondents who mentioned negatives also made positive comments in other categories.

There are two sides to the value of an MLIS degree “coin” and it is necessary to examine both the positives and negatives. The comments indicate that librarians clearly value the MLIS degree. At the same time, they have many real-life concerns. Armed with this knowledge, library leaders and library educators can advocate more effectively for librarians and enhance the value of the degree for all.

“Repeat after me: I will be cognizant of realistic expectations (salary, daily activities, career advancement/opportunities, freebies etc) in my chosen career – libraries or otherwise – my interests and desired location must match supply and demand for a realistic match – a sense of entitlement won’t get me a job, much less one I really think I should have – choosing among my options carefully, and with work and some good fortune, will increase my chances of a having a great career I love!”
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LRS is part of the Colorado State Library, a unit of the Colorado Department of Education. We design and conduct library research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media to inform practices and assessment needs. We partner with the Library and Information Science program at University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education to provide research fellowships to current MLIS students.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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